Tennessee Senate Must Reject Effort to Deny Children Loving Families

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April 25, 2019

The Tennessee State Senate is soon to vote on Tennessee SB 1304, a license-to-discriminate bill that allows taxpayer-funded child welfare agencies to reject foster or adoptive parents based upon the agency’s religious beliefs.

The Senate’s consideration comes after the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday approved SB 1304 on a 6-2 vote. A companion bill, HB 836, was passed by the Tennessee House of Representatives earlier.

Currey Cook, Counsel and Director, Youth in Out-of-Home Care Project, Lambda Legal, issued the following statement:

“It is incredible and unconscionable that states across the country would rather hurt foster kids – children at their most vulnerable – by denying them loving homes just because prospective foster parents might be a same-sex couple, or Jewish, or any number of other irrelevant and discriminatory rationales not related to their ability to parent.

"And make no mistake: this is not simply about the sexual orientation or gender identity of prospective foster or adoptive parents. In South Carolina, the state requested and received a waiver to allow a government-funded funded foster care agency, Miracle Hill, to reject potential foster families on multiple pretexts, as it did in citing a Jewish family’s faith in rejecting their involvement in the agency’s programming. And a Catholic agency sued the City of Philadelphia to block enforcement of that city’s nondiscrimination ordinance. Fortunately, the court just last week ruled in favor of the City.

“We know anti-LGBT organizations are out in force attempting to chip away at hard-fought victories that had advanced the civil rights of LGBTQ people and their families. The harm these efforts cause are incalculable. There are children in the Tennessee child welfare system in desperate need of loving families. And there are people of all faiths and loving and qualified LGBT individuals and couples in Tennessee who want nothing more than to give those children the warm, caring and safe environment they deserve.

"SB 1304 works to withhold those families from those children. It gives special permission to religiously-affiliated government-funded child welfare agencies to place the agencies’ beliefs above the needs and best interests of children in care and discriminate against parents who are trying to provide a loving home.

“Tennessee risks joining the roster of states who have passed similarly hateful bills that allow government-funded discrimination, and we urge state senators of conscience to resist this effort and strike down this bill. To deny qualified parents eager to foster or adopt children in need of loving homes because of their sexual orientation or gender-identity or particular religious belief is not only wrong, but turns the entire child welfare system on its head by prioritizing a provider’s interests over those of children.”

Lambda Legal asks any youth or adults who have experienced discrimination in Tennessee’s child welfare systems to call our Help Desk at 212.809.8585 or complete this online form.